Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Omniscience, Omnipotence, Omnipathos

Since recent posts haven't seemed to generate much interest, I am going to hunker down and write more for myself. You are, of course, free to eavesdrop on the process.

Although Hartshorne always identified himself as Christian, it seems that many Christians suspect him of being a closet pantheist. Says here that he came in for criticism on a number of grounds, such as the assumption that "there is an objective or rational structure to the whole universe," and that "human thought can acquire accurate and adequate knowledge of the universe."

I certainly don't have a problem with that one, so long as we specify that our knowledge is always asymptotic, meaning that it ceaselessly approaches its own completion without ever acquiring it.

But more generally, being that man is in the image of the creator, this reflection must quintessentially include the intellect. It doesn't mean that we are "omniscient," only that the intellect is conformed to the nature of things. If it isn't, then we are excluded from truth.

I don't know if it is true that Hartshorne denies a first cause, but if he does, that is of course a cosmic non-starter (but easy enough to remedy).

He does make the controversial claim that God "needs" the creation, but he doesn't just come out and say it like that! He has his reasons, which we might just get to in this post. At this point I would just say that to truly love something or someone is to permit oneself to "need," and that to do this is "higher" and more noble than its opposite. For example, does the Father "need" the Son? Perhaps we wouldn't put it like that, but that doesn't mean the question is out of bounds.

Others complain about his "denial of divine foreknowledge and predestination to salvation." True. We'll also get back to that one.

The following is more problematic for me: his "highly optimistic view of humanity, and hence its lack of emphasis on human depravity, guilt and sin." In short, he is definitely a liberal, sometimes an obnoxiously clueless one (but I repeat myself). Having spent his life in academia, he does seem to have uncritically assimilated its narrow-minded ambient liberalism. And yet, aspects of his theology strike me as undeniably true, thus my desire to see if we can rescue him from himself and situate him in a more traditional context.

One thing that Hartshorne highlights is the "omnipathos" of God. This is a very useful word, because it means that, in addition to being all-knowing and all-powerful, he is all-feeling. Right there we see an interesting Trinity consisting of truth, love, and power, each conditioned by the other. More to the point, if we deny God's omnipathos, there is no way for him to meaningfully relate to us -- to put himself in our shoes. But isn't this what the Incarnation is all about?

Since I'm only writing for myself, I'm not going to go in any particular order. In The Divine Relativity -- speaking of omnipathos -- Hartshorne makes the intriguing point that God is not only the cause of all effects (which seems to take care of the First Cause), but also the effect of all causes. This would be the metaphysical/theoretical basis of his all-feeling omnipathos, as it means that he is supremely receptive to his own creation (or better, perpetual creativity).

This leads to one of Hartshorne's most controversial ideas, that God "changes." Quite simply, he changes because he is truly receptive to his creation -- hence also the "suffering with." Hartshorne believes that the emphasis on the notion of Unchanging Absolute -- as we've discussed in the past -- is a Greek import, not truly biblical (not to mention incoherent and ultimately absurd). In the Greek conception, time is completely devalued in favor of eternity. Time is change, and change is bad because it cannot disclose unchanging truth.

But there is change and there is change. For example, there is decadence, deterioration, corruption, degradation, dissolution, decline -- you know, Obama style change.

But there is also growth, development, maturation, perfection, etc. These are very different things. For Hartshorne, God possesses super-eminent relativity, meaning that his omnipathos is to our empathy as his omniscience is to our knowing. But it is certainly not to be thought of as a deficit. Rather, it is a kind of perfect attunement.

On a purely logical basis, how could God even have knowledge unless that knowledge is related to a known? No, we don't want to simply anthropomorphize him, but we shouldn't say that God has knowledge if we mean something totally different by the word. As Hartshorne writes, if

"the divine knowledge is purely absolute, hence involves no relation to things known, what analogy can it have to what is commonly meant by knowledge, which seems to be nothing without such a relation?" Yes, he is the cause of this world, but here again, what is a cause without an effect? To say that in God cause and effect are one is to simply deny cause and effect, and to enclose him in a static monad.

The same applies to free will. If being omnipotent -- all-powerful -- means that we have no power, then that ends the discussion. But if omnipotence is bound up with omniscience (bearing in mind that to know is to relate) and omnipathos, then this changes the equation.

As Hartshorne writes, "Power to cause someone to perform by his own choice an act precisely defined by the cause is meaningless." Again, if God's omnipotence excludes our limited potency, then he is as pointlessly enclosed in his own circuitous locution as any deconstructionist.

If we consider the creation, we see that it is woven of chance and necessity, of freedom and constraint, of boundary conditions and emergent phenomena, of order and surprise. Perhaps this tells us something about its creator. Too much order equates to absolute omnipotence in the traditional sense, but a world of pure chance is inconceivable.

Even leaving all the specifics to the side, life makes no sense without this oddly "perfect" cosmic complementarity of design and freedom (which I would say is the very essence of creativity). Furthermore, "the reality of chance is the very thing that makes providence significant," because otherwise any intervention by God is just necessity in disguise.

Running out of time here, but perhaps "maximizing relativity as well as absoluteness in God enables us to conceive him as supreme person." Unless by "personhood" we mean something totally alien to us.

For if God is "in all aspects absolute, then literally it is 'all the same' to him, a matter of utter indifference, whether we do this or do that, whether we live or die, whether we joy or suffer." In short, if this is "personal," then we aren't.

29 Comments:

Blogger ted said...

I do believe God has to be personal, because we are so personal. (This is something I could never reconcile with Buddhist metaphysics.) As such, we are living fractals in the metacosmic journey which God breathes life into and receives at the same time.

11/25/2014 09:15:00 AM  
Blogger ted said...

And if you're just speaking to yourself, I would expect more crazy talk. Seems beautifully coherent to me.

11/25/2014 09:17:00 AM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Sorry, Bob.

I am interested in your recent posts but I got distracted by the Ferguson Fiasco.
However, that's no excuse.

Again, my apologies.

11/25/2014 09:31:00 AM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

"If we consider the creation, we see that it is woven of chance and necessity, of freedom and constraint, of boundary conditions and emergent phenomena, of order and surprise. Perhaps this tells us something about its creator. Too much order equates to absolute omnipotence in the traditional sense, but a world of pure chance is inconceivable."

This is why Destiny is infinitely better than fate.

11/25/2014 09:40:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

One thing that Hartshorne highlights is the "omnipathos" of God. This is a very useful word, because it means that, in addition to being all-knowing and all-powerful, he is all-feeling. Right there we see an interesting Trinity consisting of truth, love, and power, each conditioned by the other. More to the point, if we deny God's omnipathos, there is no way for him to meaningfully relate to us -- to put himself in our shoes. But isn't this what the Incarnation is all about?

Again, Solomon:

"or, being upright yourself, you rule the universe uprightly, and hold it as incompatible with your power to condemn anyone who has not deserved to be punished.

16 For your strength is the basis of your saving justice, and your sovereignty over all makes you lenient to all.

17 You show your strength when people will not believe in your absolute power, and you confound any insolence in those who do know it.

18 But you, controlling your strength, are mild in judgement, and govern us with great lenience, for you have only to will, and your power is there.

19 By acting thus, you have taught your people that the upright must be kindly to his fellows, and you have given your children the good hope that after sins you will grant repentance."

11/25/2014 09:48:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

This leads to one of Hartshorne's most controversial ideas, that God "changes." Quite simply, he changes because he is truly receptive to his creation -- hence also the "suffering with." Hartshorne believes that the emphasis on the notion of Unchanging Absolute -- as we've discussed in the past -- is a Greek import, not truly biblical (not to mention incoherent and ultimately absurd).

Reading Exodus, the way the story is written God seems to spend an awful lot of time being surprised at the obstinacy of man - and changing his plans accordingly - for someone who never changes.

In fact, Exodus 32:14: "So the Lord changed his mind about the punishment he had threatened to inflict on his people."

11/25/2014 09:54:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Ben:

That was not a criticism! Much less of comments on the passing scene, since this is an all purpose, all dimension blog.

11/25/2014 10:14:00 AM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Okay, then I'm not sorry. :)

I get it now that I reread it. I think I need a nap.

11/25/2014 10:44:00 AM  
Blogger EbonyRaptor said...

"He does make the controversial claim that God "needs" the creation, ... "

That's an interesting topic. I think "need" connotes a dependency without which one is left incomplete or unable or unsustained, none of which would seem to apply to God. But, would God be God without His creation? What would He be God of? So strictly in a literal sense an argument can be made that God needs His creation to be "God", where the word god is used as a title or definition. That's not to suggest that The Supreme Being could not exist without his creation because obviously He existed before He created His creation, only that perhaps to be God requires a world or cosmos to be "God of".

11/25/2014 10:50:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Right: it's like, would God be God if he weren't good? If not, it implies that he is "constrained" by his goodness. And that is precisely what Muslims do not believe. Rather, they insist that God has no such constraints, and that he just does what he does for entirely inscrutable reasons.

11/25/2014 10:56:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

And I do believe that God would not be God without creation -- not this one per se, but creativity as such. Again, I go back to the first sentence of the Bible, which obviously emphasizes that God is first and foremost Creator. But to be "constrained" by creativity is a kind of paradox, because it is the one thing that always surpasses constraints!

11/25/2014 10:58:00 AM  
Blogger Magister said...

I remain sympathetic but questioning.

Sympathetic because God, being creative and good, must take joy in his ongoing creation and our response to it and Him. Those relations must be ongoing and alive.

My questions have to do with how to describe the be-ing of God. Theologians I talk to see Hartshorne as saying questionable things about God's immanence in nature. There's something troubling to them about how he describes ontology. Maybe that's where the charge of pantheism comes from.

Bob, you might be interested in John Betz's first-ever translation of Erich Przywara's Analogia Entis. Przwayara was a mentor both to Barth (Protestant) and Balthasar (Catholic). He apparently talks about being in terms of "divine rhythm." Balthasar as you know used pictorial terms, which are more static.

Anyway, sympathetic and questioning here.

11/25/2014 11:34:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Sympathetic but questioning -- join the club!

11/25/2014 12:05:00 PM  
Blogger EbonyRaptor said...

"Sympathetic but questioning"

Sounds kinda like "trust but verify" :)

11/25/2014 12:37:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

But there is also growth, development, maturation, perfection ...

That causes me to stumble. I don't think it is just the Greeks. The only way through is via the Trinity. The revelation of the Lord before Christ is of a perfect God who "changes not". But the hypostatic union in the God-Man offers something new.

And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man. (Luke 2:52, ESV)

The ineffable and eternal YHWH can't possibly be more perfect, but through His creation, and very explicitly in the Incarnation He can come to Himself.

Perhaps it is not so different than God looking around for a match for Adam and finally resorting to pulling out a rib and showing him what he had been missing.

11/25/2014 01:28:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Mushroom:

Or maybe God was just ribbing Adam.

11/25/2014 02:11:00 PM  
Anonymous Skully said...

That's what Waylon meant when he sang:

"What started out to be a joke the law don't understand."

11/25/2014 02:14:00 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

"The ineffable and eternal YHWH can't possibly be more perfect..."

Maybe perfect's not all it's cracked up to be.

11/25/2014 05:18:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

That's what I suspect. Otherwise Christ would have been a very different God -- more of power and omniscience than compassion and surrender.

11/25/2014 05:38:00 PM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

"As Hartshorne writes, "Power to cause someone to perform by his own choice an act precisely defined by the cause is meaningless." Again, if God's omnipotence excludes our limited potency, then he is as pointlessly enclosed in his own circuitous locution as any deconstructionist."

The issue which both the predestinationists And the materialistic determinists don't grasp, is that what they imagine as being 'Power!', the ability to trigger human action as if by machinery or puppetry, is the furthest thing from power their is; it isn't an expression of power, but of the most shallow, brittle, uncomprehending weakness.

Wisdom and power come from understanding principles and deeper truths, not manipulation; from willing choices, not mindless spasms.

11/25/2014 05:50:00 PM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

EbonyRaptor said...""Sympathetic but questioning" Sounds kinda like "trust but verify" :)"

Or that Trusting is Verifying. I suspect that just as 3D can be impressively represented in 2D, but not possibly mistaken for it by anyone who's seen the real thing, our 3D expectation of OCD, is as good as we can imagine... and what we can't imagine, probably fills in the gaps rather nicely.

11/25/2014 06:11:00 PM  
Blogger William Wildblood said...

I’ve been reading your blog for a while now and find it one of the most spiritually perceptive I’ve come across so thanks for all your many insights.

What has prompted me to comment is your remark that God ‘changes’. I think this is very true and that it is the reason for this whole world of creation, us included. In the absolute sense God is always and forever complete and perfect, and nothing can be added to or taken away from Him. But through involvement in time and through giving us self-conscious beings individuality, there is a sense in which He grows (as the universe is said to expand), and this can only happen in a world of change and becoming. The religions which tend to idolize the Absolute and consequently downgrade the personal God, such as, in their different ways, Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta, don’t properly appreciate the relevance of the relative and so have only half the truth. God is not just the absolute but the absolute and the relative together, always and equally, and any spiritual approach which ignores that is incomplete. In my view!

11/26/2014 06:50:00 AM  
Blogger ted said...

I think Hartshorne's concept of "Dual Transcendence" fits nicely here.

11/26/2014 07:05:00 AM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Good points, William!
Absolutely and relatively well said.

11/26/2014 07:30:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

William:

I find myself intuitively drawn to just that line of thought. It makes sense of things that otherwise make no sense at all...

11/26/2014 07:50:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

I do understand and respect those who reject it, however. For some reason it is a radical idea, perhaps because it can be so easily misunderstood, or descend into pantheism, or detract from the majesty of God, etc. All the more reason to carefully think it through.

11/26/2014 07:53:00 AM  
Blogger William Wildblood said...

Bob, I agree that the idea that God could grow seems almost blasphemous but mightn't that be because of the dual nature of reality, absolute and relative? Of course, the absolute can't grow but its expression can. And that's the joy and abundance of creation.

But, you're right, this idea has to treated cautiously and I'm only feeling my way here. Could one say that God doesn't grow in his essence but can do through his expression?

11/26/2014 08:46:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Yes, if we imagine that God "changes," then it can only be from perfection to perfection, so to speak. Like the Beatles from '62 to '67.

11/26/2014 09:19:00 AM  
Blogger Joan of Argghh! said...

Just got a moment to read this.
It's ... wonderful.

11/30/2014 04:04:00 PM  

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